Rollin’ on the River


Despite advocates concerns that people don’t care enough about the Anacostia River, there are organizations that work to bring residents closer to the river.

On a breezy November morning, a class of fifth-graders and adults from Neval Thomas Elementary and environmental wildlife groups made their way up the Anacostia River. Shouts for school mascots (“Let’s go tigers!”) and an impromptu rendition of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” filled the air as five canoes traveled along the waterway.

A counselor at the school contacted the park services and the watershed organization to give students a real-life experience to complement their environmental science lessons.

The trip’s purpose: to teach children and adults to care for the environment and to encourage them to participate in clean-up efforts.

The children alternated between racing canoes and enjoying the sights pointed out by guides also in canoes and the accompanying pontoon boat carrying trip organizers, the Anacostia Watershed Society, and the National Park Services.

Wendy Van Norden, an environmental educator at the Anacostia Watershed Society, said that giving students a “meaningful watershed education experience” was exactly what her group aims to do.

“The Anacostia River gets a bad rap as the “forgotten river,” she said, “People don’t think about how beautiful it is.” Giving children and other district residents a chance to get an up-close experience with the Anacostia helps change their attitudes about the river, according to Norden. “They start making the link about how litter can hurt the animals they see right before their eyes,” she said.

During the trip, a great blue heron made an unexpected cameo, strolling along the muddy riverbed as the canoes passed before soaring into the azure sky above the passengers head. But other wildlife dependent on Anacostia River and its wetlands were conspicuously absent because of decades of pollution and neglect.

But the beautiful water views were not the only sites to behold. Trash could still be spotted despite continuous cleanup efforts and the “bag-tax.”  Littered plastic bags collected in the branches of the remaining forest buffer along the river; Arizona soda cans bobbed up and down as the group paddled by. One student even spotted a tire snagged on a log.

Still, Van Norden says the river has gotten much cleaner in the last few years. “Our founder Robert Boone said that about 20 years ago a bird could walk from one side of the river to the other on trash,” she said, “But now, that’s not the case.”